They were 55 men in a six square meter cell. The toilet was a drum placed in the corner of the cell. They had to take turns to breathe fresh air through a single opening. There was hardly any space to lie down, and it was a competition to find enough space to rest. Food consisted of a piece of bread at midday and another in the evening. Such were the circumstances Michael faced in a prison in Eritrea.
In its report on human rights in Eritrea dated June 4, the United Nations commission of inquiry finds that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the government. They say some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.
Although the commission was unable to visit Eritrea, it obtained firsthand testimony by conducting 550 confidential interviews with witnesses residing in third countries. It also received 160 written submissions, including one from Open Doors.
The report finds that the government has created and sustained repressive systems to control, silence and isolate individuals in the country, depriving them of their fundamental freedoms.
The government collects information on people’s activities, their supposed intentions and even conjectured thoughts through its extensive spying and surveillance system targeting individuals in the country and in the diaspora and then uses it to rule through fear. “Pervasive spying and surveillance in Eritrea go beyond the needs of national security or crime prevention and is arbitrary.”
The government silences and isolates individuals through an organized system of repression of the freedoms of opinion, expression, assembly, association and religion. The government systematically silences anyone who is perceived as protesting against, questioning or expressing criticism of the government and its policies.
Of particular interest is the commission’s finding on religious persecution in Eritrea. According to the report, the government perceives religion as a threat to its existence and has set about controlling it and its expressions.
The report further details how the government rules by fear. The report states that there is effectively no rule of law in the country because there are no parliament meetings and the court system is controlled by the executive. “It is not law that rules Eritreans, but fear.”
The government of Eritrea has responded to the report on its Ministry of information website, by saying its findings are “totally unfounded and devoid of all merit.”
“These accusations are simply a continuation and an escalation of the politically motivated campaign to undermine the political, economic, and social progress the country is making, including in the area of human rights. They are an attack, not so much on the government, but on civilized people and society who cherish human values and dignity.”
Compiled by Janelle Powers. For media inquiries, contact Christine Cape at 404-545-0085 or Christy Lynn Wilson at 770-401-9842.